Chapter Note: Susannah Heschel, “Sacrament versus Racism: Converted Jews in Nazi Germany”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2024)

Chapter Note: Susannah Heschel, “Sacrament versus Racism: Converted Jews in Nazi Germany,” in: On Being Adjacent to Historical Violence, ed. Irene Kacandes (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022), 136-172.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

In this chapter, Susannah Heschel tackles a challenging question: in Hitler’s Germany, how were Christians of Jewish descent treated by their fellow parishioners, their brothers and sisters in Christ? More particularly, whether Protestant or Catholic, how were they treated after 15 September 1941, the date on which Germans identified by the Nazi regime as racially Jewish were required to wear the Judenstern, the yellow Star of David, in public—irrespective of religious affiliation? In the contest between sacrament and racism, which won out? Continue reading “Chapter Note: Susannah Heschel, “Sacrament versus Racism: Converted Jews in Nazi Germany””

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Article Note: Gordon L. Heath, “Canadian Presbyterians and the Rejection of Pacifism in the Interwar Years, 1919-1939”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 3/4 (Fall 2023)

Article Note: Gordon L. Heath, “Canadian Presbyterians and the Rejection of Pacifism in the Interwar Years, 1919-1939,” Journal of Presbyterian History, 98, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2020), 66-77.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

In this article, Gordon Heath of McMaster Divinity College has analyzed diverse forms of pacifism within the Presbyterian Church of Canada (PCC) during the 1920s and 1930s. He argues that support for internationalist pacifism—a “liberal reformist” movement committed to “international developments for peace” but “willing to support the use of force as a last resort” (68)—was strong among Presbyterians, but that support for absolute pacifism—the refusal “to support the use of force for any reason” (68)—waned in the later 1920s and 1930s. This was in large part because the minority of Presbyterians who remained with the PCC after most chose to join the new United Church of Canada (UCC) were largely committed to the Just War tradition, a core Presbyterian conviction (67). Continue reading “Article Note: Gordon L. Heath, “Canadian Presbyterians and the Rejection of Pacifism in the Interwar Years, 1919-1939””

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Letter from the Editors (Summer 2023)

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 1/2 (Summer 2023)

Letter from the Editors (Summer 2023)

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

Dear Friends,

I must begin this Letter from the Editors with an apology for the long delay between issues of Contemporary Church History Quarterly, which is due to the recent increase in the demands of my university position. While it has been my pleasure to have led a group of scholars in transforming the late John Conway’s monthly newsletter into a quarterly journal starting back in March 2010, it is time to pass on my Managing Editor responsibilities. I am pleased to announce that Dr. Lauren Faulkner Rossi of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, will be stepping into the lead role as of the next issue. I am delighted that she is willing to take on the responsibility and look forward to supporting her as she and her colleagues on the editorial board carry the CCHQ forward.

In this issue, we are pleased to present an article by Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming on a series of lectures by Father Marie-Benoît at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in Rome, in November 1944. In the lectures, he tried to bring together Jews and Christians by discussing topics such as the creation of the universe, man formed in the image of God, monogamy, the sanctity of marriage, the unity of the human family, and other topics common to both Christianity and Judaism. His lectures came to the attention of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, the office within the Roman Curia that ruled on matters of faith and morals. The essay describes the tug-of-war between various authority figures, congregations within the Curia, and religious Orders that ensued, ultimately foreshadowing the sea changes of the Second Vatican Council.

We are also pleased to present a series of book reviews by Rebecca Carter-Chand, Martin Menke, Dirk Schuster, and Kyle Jantzen on the Vatican and Evangelical Christians in Fascist Italy, Archbishops Conrad Gröber and Lorenz Jaeger, Christianity and Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism, and British Christian engagement with Nazi Germany, respectively. Several news and notes round out this issue.

We hope you find these contributions both interesting and enlightening.

On behalf of the editorial team,

Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

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Review of Andrew Chandler, British Christians and the Third Reich: Church, State, and the Judgement of Nations

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 1/2 (Summer 2023)

Review of Andrew Chandler, British Christians and the Third Reich: Church, State, and the Judgement of Nations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). Pp. x + 422. ISBN: 9781107129047.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

Andrew Chandler has written an engaging study of the substantial preoccupation and response of diverse British Christians to Nazism, the German “Church Struggle,” the persecution of the Jews, and the Second World War. Chandler has been immersed in this history for over 30 years, and the resulting depth of knowledge shines through in the thoroughness of his research and the perspicacity of his historical judgments.

At the outset, Chandler argues that British Christians and the Third Reich is an argument for the validity of a transnational approach to British history—one exploring not those networks rooted in the British Empire but rather those networks rooted in “that liberal moral consciousness which extended the boundaries of conventional politics in the age of mass democracy” (1). He aims to demonstrate “that the relationship between British Christianity and the Third Reich is indeed a solid subject and that it is one of significance” (2) to the ways we find patterns in and write about the past, and does so by means of a chronological study drawing on a rich array of sources, including correspondence, memoranda, published books, polemical pamphlets, British parliamentary debates, records of various church assemblies, and the vast output of both church and secular press.

As the study of British Christians rather than simply British churches, Chandler’s work explores the way Christians and Christian thinking about Nazi Germany was brought to bear in ecclesiastical, political, and cultural spheres. To that end, he begins with an overview of the way in which British Christianity (Anglican, Catholic, and Free Church) was engaged with both domestic and international political concerns, through a wide variety of institutions, conferences, and (especially) publishing endeavours. Doctrinal concerns, Chandler notes, did not generally stand in the way of interaction and cooperation among the many Christian leaders and intellectuals he analyzes. These include various Anglican prelates (Cosmo Lang, Herbert Hensley Henson, William Temple, Arthur Headlam, George Bell, Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones) and lay leaders (James Parkes, Sir Wyndham Deedes), Catholic standouts (Cardinal Bourne, Arthur Hinsley, Christopher Dawson, Michael de la Bedoyere), and Free Church notables (Henry Carter, J.H. Rushbrooke, Alfred E. Garvie, Nathaniel Micklem, William Paton, J.H. Oldham, Dorothy (Jebb) Buxton, Bertha Bracey, Corder Catchpool) whom he describes in a series of helpful biographical sketches near the beginning of the book (33-50). These are among the primary figures in Chandler’s study, the ones whose words and deeds stand in for “British Christians” more generally. It could be argued, of course, that these men and women were hardly representative of British Christians as a whole, but as spokespersons for broad swathes of British Christianity, they represent at least the attitudes and ideas in play at the leadership level of the churches—ideas communicated through church hierarchies and denominational networks, as well as through a myriad of church publications.

Chandler frames his history in five eras: during 1933-1934, British Christians first encountered Nazi Germany, developed views about it, and explored potential responses; 1935-1937 was marked by debates about whether to accept or oppose Nazism, in which Christians tended to land on the critical side; 1938-1939 introduced urgent debates about “German expansion and western Appeasement,” new and more violent attacks against Jews in Germany, and the growing likelihood of war; from 1939-1943, Britain led the war effort for democracy and against Nazi-occupied Europe, and Christians grappled with the “themes of collaboration, complicity, and resistance;” and 1943-1949 revolved around conceptual debates about “justice and judgment” and real problems of Allied occupation and humanitarian crises (8-9).

In the first section, on the period of the Nazi seizure and consolidation of power, Chandler argues “it was not true” that international opinion was slow to note and criticize Hitler’s regime (51). Yet there were doubts about whether the Treaty of Versailles would bring a lasting peace and many political attacks against democracy. Within weeks of the Nazi seizure of power, British Christians understood that Nazism was a challenge to the international system, a danger to both its political opponents and German Jews, and a dictatorial threat to German churches. While those like the Quaker Corder Catchpool in Berlin and International Student Services official James Parkes in Geneva served as important sources of information, others like Archbishops Lang of Canterbury and Temple of York consulted with government representatives and British Jewish leaders and launched debates in the House of Lords. Laypeople like Quaker Bertha Bracey established organizations like the Germany Emergency Committee, while churchmen of all stripes wrote protests in the church press.

During the eruption of the German “Church Struggle,” British Christians learned much about the diverse positions of Christians in Germany towards the Nazi state. “What is at once striking,” Chandler notes, “is the strength of the British response to these affairs” (86). The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Council on Foreign Relations was the site of much of the early conversation about the German turmoil, with information supplied by ecumenical figures like Bishop Bell of Chichester. Indeed, Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones, Dean of the Chichester Cathedral, travelled to Germany and met pro-Nazi “German Christians,” opponents who would eventually form the Confessing Church, and even (surprisingly) Hitler himself. The result was a nuanced view of the situation, but also one that urged caution with respect to intervening in German church affairs (90).

Chandler describes the growing conflict between Bishops Headlam of Gloucester and Bell—the former overly sympathetic to the Hitler regime and prone to antisemitic remarks and the latter (along with Archbishop Lang) increasingly critical of the Nazi regime and its allies in the German Christian Movement. Bell also became quite involved in the emerging Jewish refugee crisis, while Archbishop Temple attempted to intercede with Hitler himself—just one of many interventions by British Christians against the German government. Chandler explains that by the summer of 1934, the German Foreign Office was expressing concern over the effect of German church affairs on international opinion, and British protests against antisemitism were also growing prominent. International Christian gatherings like the 1934 Baptist World Congress and the Life and Work Conference in Fanø were also taken up with the German church situation.

In the section covering 1935-1937, Chandler argues that the growth of a movement favouring rapprochement with Germany should not lead us to undervalue the resistance that remained within liberal democratic society. “British Christians were often found to be an expressive element of this [resistance], and they played a prominent part in maintaining a critical consensus when it might easily have lost its force and subsided” (139). Germany was, after all, still a racial dictatorship. Jews were, afterall, still a persecuted minority there. Christians too were still harassed and persecuted. Concentration camps still threatened, and the refugee crisis continued to grow. Indeed, while the direct interventions of British Christians waned, having grown less successful with the increasing confidence of the National Socialist state, new humanitarian ventures became a means by which British Christians could respond to the crisis in the German church, state, and society.

For instance, Quaker Dorothy Buxton travelled to Germany and spoke out (somewhat controversially) against the concentration camps in which the Hitler regime incarcerated its political opponents. Bishop Bell was reluctant to follow her lead, especially with a new round of conflict in the German “Church Struggle.” Public speeches and letters of protest concerning the treatment of the German churches were offered up by a range of British Christians: former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Bell, Temple, Bishop Henson of Durham, Moderator of the Federal Council of Free Churches Sidney Berry, and others. All of these protests found their way to Berlin, and Bell also visited Germany, meeting with both political and ecclesiastical leaders. An important moment came in November 1935, when Bell introduced a motion expressing “sympathy ‘with the Jewish people and those of Jewish origin’ in Germany” in the Anglican Church Assembly. When opposition to the motion emerged, Bishop Henson gave an impromptu and explosive address denouncing Nazi Germany, carrying the day (157-159). At the same time, on the ground, Catchpool and other Quakers in Berlin were attempting to aid concentration camp prisoners and protect Jewish institutions under threat.

The year 1936 saw yet more British Christian criticism of Nazi Germany, with a sharpening focus on its pagan and totalitarian nature. Alongside these continuing protests, there were new examples of concrete action, such as the creation of the International Christian Committee for Refugees, chaired by Bell and supported by Lang in an effort to aid so-called non-Aryan Christians (not least, children) in need of new homes outside of Germany. But the reports of British Christians visiting Germany were mixed. A.J. Macdonald of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Council on Foreign Relations played down the situation, arguing that German pastors just wanted to get on with their work and that only those who opposed the state politically landed themselves in trouble. Bell found the situation much more serious, though his German church contacts were pessimistic about and even reticent of foreign intervention. And the Congregationalist Principal of Mansfield College (Oxford), Nathaniel Micklem, discovered an underground German church fearful of arrest by secret police. In 1937, attention shifted to Roman Catholic opposition to Nazism with the publication of Pope Pius XI’s Mit brennender Sorge (“With Burning Concern”) encyclical. British Catholics were well aware of how much relations between Germany and the Catholic Church had deteriorated. Meanwhile, Anglican and Quaker attempts to raise money for non-Aryan Christian refugees fared poorly and the ongoing argument between Bishops Headlam and Bell over the church’s stance towards Germany only muddied the waters. But the arrest and incarceration of Confessing Church leader Martin Niemöller sparked a new round of British Christian protests in late 1937 (195-195).

Concerning the build-up to the Second World War, Chandler asks how the morality of the appeasement policy and the presence of a significant pacifist minority coexisted with the ever-growing refugee crisis and the public scandal concerning Pastor Niemöller, “the most famous political prisoner in the world” (204). On the one hand, Chandler notes,

Appeasement sought to avoid another Great War and this resolve possessed the authority of a national consensus. In March 1938 the Church Times pronounced, ‘Is it not the law of God to try friendship and understanding?’ From the spring of 1938 the policy of the Chamberlain government found the winds of Christian opinion blowing supportively in its sails. (208)

On the other hand, criticisms such as Duncan-Jones’ The Struggle for Religious Freedom in Germany described the religious mysticism of Nazi Germany as “fundamentally irreconcilable” with Christianity and lambasted the oppression and “cruelty of Moloch” (205-206). Buxton, Bell, Lang, Micklem, and others continued to protest Niemöller’s incarceration, while the refugee crisis grew ever worse with the annexation of Austria. Bell, in particular, understood that political events were overshadowing the “Church Struggle” and that British Christian intervention no longer had any effect whatsoever in Germany (218-219).

But if the Munich Agreement had been greeted with calls for a national day of thanksgiving (Lang) and if Te Deums rang out in Catholic churches, the Kristallnacht Pogrom of November 1938 brought all that to a halt, shocking British Christians and shattering hopes for peace. Archbishop Lang published an indignant letter (“A Black Day for Germany”) which was later affirmed by the Church Assembly. The Catholic Herald described Nazi “sub-human behaviour” while the Baptist Times argued, “The time for silence is past.” As the Munich consensus disintegrated, British Christians invested new energy into refugee work, which was boosted by the government decision to allow child refugees to enter Britain. Sponsorships abounded. Church statements grew firmer, too. In a March 1939 House of Lords speech, Lang urged “the massing of might on the side of right,” and when Hitler launched the war in September, he announced in the same chamber that, “I shrink indeed from linking our broken lights and our fallible purposes with the Holy Name of God, yet I honestly believe that in this struggle, if it is forced upon us, we may humbly and trustfully commend our cause to God” (260, 269).

Chandler devotes no less than 100 pages to the period of the Second World War. In the main, he notes how, with London as the international capital of a war-torn continent, British Christians engaged in new patterns of association and collaboration, not least between Protestants and Catholics and between Christians and Jews. Through these, Christians responded to the moral challenge of National Socialist ideology and politics. In the main, the European conflict was justified by Christian leaders of all kinds as a “righteous war” (273). Hitler and Nazism were condemned as evil, even as church leaders expressed sympathy for the German people, whom they regarded as deceived and led astray. Many German exiles came to London, where they collaborated with German and British Christians on publications and radio broadcasts. Though relations with the German churches were effectively severed by the war, fragments of news painted a bleak picture. The moral stance of most leading British Christians discouraged the idea of a negotiated peace, though the Vatican was working diplomatic channels intensely and ecumenical representatives in Geneva kept their hopes alive.

Among Catholics, Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, rose to prominence as a supporter of the war. At a 1940 National Day of Prayer Mass broadcast by the BBC, he declared, “Can any Christian now hear with indifference that clarion call to defend the right; to protect the souls of millions of our brethren cruelly assailed and oppressed?” The war, he continued, was a “just crusade for the deliverance from evil which rests its strength on force alone” (287). Similar rhetoric abounded across the Christian spectrum, as the war gave rise to a vast literature on politics, religion, and morality, including Bell’s Christianity and World Order, published by Penguin (296). And debates broke out, like the one between those who regarded Germans as possessing an essentially Nazi national character and thus collectively guilty, such as senior British diplomat Sir Robert Vansittart, and those who believed there were good Germans who could be cultivated and supported in the fight against Hitler, like Bell.

New relationships—particularly among laypeople—brought Protestants and Catholics closer together in a common cause, captured in historian Christopher Dawson’s call for “‘a return to Christian unity’ in the name of civilisation” (301). Similarly, the Council of Christians and Jews was established in 1942 “to co-operate in the struggle against religious and racial persecution” (310). When the British government was slow to distinguish the mass murder of Jews as a special crime in the fall of 1942, Archbishop Temple and Viscount Cecil (Free Churches) led a protest at Royal Albert Hall. That December, the Council of Christians and Jews took up a paper entitled, “Discussion of Present Extermination Policy of Nazi Government in Respect of European Jewry” (322). Various condemnatory statements were publicized by Christian leaders, but as they learned ever more about the annihilation of the Jews over the course of 1943, Temple and others expressed concern that the government’s response was far too timid. Repeated attempts to influence official policy were largely fruitless (343-349).

As the war progressed and Allied victory could be imagined, British Christians raised questions about the morality of war, the nature of a just peace, and the Christian principals that might inform a new postwar order. A Peace Aims group, spearheaded by the Presbyterian William Paton, worked to outline the Christian moral basis for peace and the political reconstruction of Europe. Striking the balance between justice and vengeance proved to be a key challenge. Any hopes that Christian leaders might shape the international settlement of the conflict were dashed by mid-1944. Much to their chagrin, retribution had emerged as the British aim with respect to Germany, and the fire-bombing of German cities illustrated the extent to which “total war” had taken hold (355-361).

After the defeat of Germany, even as the International Military Tribunal prepared to try representative German war criminals, British Christians like Bishop Bell and Wesleyan Methodist Henry Carter began the task of organizing humanitarian relief. A “Save Europe Now” campaign was launched. A new organization, Christian Reconstruction in Europe, was formed and was soon folded into the British Council of Churches as the Department of Interchurch Aid and Refugee Service. Additionally, Carter chaired the new World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Refugee Commission.  Meanwhile, Bishop Bell and Methodist Gordon Rupp met with other ecumenical representatives of the World Council of Churches in the Process of Formation in Stuttgart in October 1945, making contact with the emergence Evangelical Church in Germany. It was here that Martin Niemöller and Otto Dibelius drafted the famous Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. Despite its shortcomings, it opened the door for the German churches to re-enter the ecumenical realm. As for the Nuremberg Trials, Chandler details the controversial opposition of Bishop Bell, who sought to limit the extent of this judicial process (379-387).

A short “Endings and Legacies” chapter offers brief summaries of the postwar careers of some of the main characters in Chandler’s study, many of whom he regards—probably rightly—as underappreciated. In an interesting discussion of the place of German theology in postwar Britain, Chandler explains the rise of Christian writing about the German “Church Struggle,” German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the biographies of Confessing Church leaders. He also explains the rise of new points of contact between the Christian denominations and also between Christians and Jews. Finally, he demonstrates how leading British scholars of the history and theology of the German churches under Nazism had personal links to important British Christians of that era.

In sum, Andrew Chandler’s British Christians and the Third Reich: Church, State, and the Judgement of Nations is a thoroughly researched and fascinating exploration of the moral and political engagement of leading Anglican, Catholic, and Free Church figures in Nazism, the German “Church Struggle,” the persecution of the Jews, and the Second World War. It is rich with detail from primary sources, which nicely communicates both the spirit and depth of British Christian engagement in the moral questions of the era. In true transnational historical form, it enhances our understanding of both British and German church politics during the Nazi era, along with the surprising extent to which communications flowed between the two sets of political and ecclesiastical elites.

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Article Note: Harry Legg, “Non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’: The Everyday Life of a Forgotten Group Within Nazi Germany”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 1/2 (Summer 2023)

Article Note: Harry Legg, “Non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’: The Everyday Life of a Forgotten Group Within Nazi Germany,” Journal of Holocaust Research 36 no. 4 (2022): 299-326.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

In this article, Harry Legg, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, analyzes the everyday lives of “non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’”—Germans who did not identify religiously or culturally as Jews but who were categorized as “Full Racial Jews” according to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. Focusing on a case study of the Eisig family, he argues that the experience of persecution of these “Jews” (he places the term in quotation marks to emphasize that it was the Nazis who identified them as Jews, and not they themselves) was fundamentally different than the experience of persecution among German Jews (quotation marks absent) who did identify religiously and/or culturally as Jews.

Legg begins by noting that these important distinctions and the dramatically different lived experiences behind them are generally ignored in the secondary literature about Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany (300-308). While German Jews suffering persecution turned more and more inward towards their own religious and cultural community for support and sustenance, the same was not true for the “Jews” who had assimilated into Christian and/or secular German life and who had no Jewish community to turn to once the Nazi regime began to marginalize and then persecute them.

The author notes that the concepts of wealth and status are particularly useful in assessing the lived experiences of these “Jews”—those racially identified as Jews who were non-Jewish in other respects. Simply put, in many cases, entrepreneurial wealth and respect within the wider community replaced support from Jewish communities to which they did not belong, and allowed non-Jewish “Jews” to obtain temporary relief from Nazi persecution. “Though these factors could not halt the progressive slide of ‘full Jews’ toward expulsion from Germany, they could soften the daily experience of this relentless march. They could also vitally alter the form that this expulsion would ultimately take.” (310)

The bulk of the article revolves around Ludwig and Amalie Eisig, who formally withdrew from their Göppingen Jewish community soon after their wedding, who baptized their children as Protestants, and who thoroughly embraced both German nationalism and Christianity. Their experiences, and those of their children (son Konrad suffered greatly from educational persecution), bear out the two key aspects of Legg’s argument: that the Eisigs’ wealth and social standing in the wider (non-Jewish) community slowed and softened the process by which they suffered social isolation and persecution in their southwest German corner of Nazi Germany (from which they eventually emigrated, thanks in large part to their wealth); and that, on the other hand, having little to no connection to Jews who belonged to the Jewish religious and cultural community in their town, they were more socially isolated in the times and places in which that protection was useless and all who were identified as racial Jews suffered at the hand of the Hitler regime.

In sum, this article adds important nuances to our understanding of diverse Jewish experiences in Nazi Germany, reminding us that Nazi racial categories often had little at all to do with the lived experiences of Germans of Jewish descent—not least for those assimilated into Christian communities.

Of special interest to historians studying the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s and attempts to support “non-Aryan Christians” in their efforts to immigrate to Britain, the United States, and other (primarily Western) countries, Legg devotes an appendix to the question, “Who were the so-called Nichtglaubensjuden?” As he argues, “Despite the fact that ‘Jewishness’ at the time was not just a religious identity, but also a secular one, there are multiple reasons to suggest that a sizeable proportion of the 19,716 Nichtglaubensjuden (non-believing Jews) listed in the 1939 census also did not self-identify as secular Jews. We can also safely conclude that the majority had not recently resigned from the Jewish community.” (323)

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Letter from the Editors (Spring/Summer 2022)

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 28, Number 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2022)

Letter from the Editors (Spring/Summer 2022)

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

Dear Friends,

After a long hiatus, once more the editors are pleased to present a new issue of Contemporary Church History Quarterly. This issue–a combined spring/summer volume–begins with the translation and reprint of an article by Manfred Gailus reassessing the high-profile Protestant churchman Otto Dibelius.

Otto Dibelius’ memorial plaque in Berlin-Lichterfelde. By OTFW, Berlin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5404813

Five reviews follow, including two on book-length studies by Gailus, a leading Berlin church historian. Sarah Thieme tackles Gläubige Zeiten. Religiosität im Dritten Reich while Christopher Probst assesses Gegen den Mainstream der Hitlerzeit. Der Wuppertaler Theologe Helmut Hesse (1916-1943).

On the Catholic side, Martin Menke reviews Michael Hesemann’s study, Der Papst und der Holocaust. Pius XII. und die geheimen Akten im Vatikan. Further afield, Björn Krondorfer examines Jeremy Best’s book, Heavenly Fatherland: German Missionary Culture and Globalization in the Age of Empire, while Kyle Jantzen reviews the James Strasburg study, God’s Marshall Plan: American Protestants and the Struggle for the Soul of Europe.

Three notes follow the reviews. Kyle Jantzen reports on two studies relating to Mennonites, Nazism, and the Holocaust, one a special issue of the Mennonite Central Committee journal Intersections and the other a Ben Goossen research article on Mennonite novelist and Holocaust denier Ingrid Rimland. Finally, Sarah Thieme reports on a conference devoted to Catholic historical research in Germany.

Finally, it is with sadness that I announce that long-time editor Matthew Hockenos is resigning from the CCHQ editorial team. Matthew was an important member of the group that converted the late John Conway’s newsletter into what is now Contemporary Church History Quarterly and has been an anchor on the editorial team ever since. We wish him well in his scholarly work, and look forward to reading his future publications on the German churches during and after the Hitler era.

Once again, we hope this issue of CCHQ interests and educates, and look forward to continuing to bring you news, reviews, and commentary on contemporary religious history with a focus on Germany and Europe in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

On behalf of the editorial team,

Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

 

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Review of James D. Strasburg, God’s Marshall Plan: American Protestants and the Struggle for the Soul of Europe

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 28, Number 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2022)

Review of James D. Strasburg, God’s Marshall Plan: American Protestants and the Struggle for the Soul of Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). Pp . 313 + ix. ISBN: 9780197516447

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

In the ruins of 1945 Berlin, American Christian leader Stewart Winfield Herman, Jr., worried about the danger of Communism to Christian civilization as he and other US Protestants knew it. Just as problematic, however, was the “German Problem” they had grappled with throughout the war years: how could Germany be both the birthplace of Protestantism and the country of Nazism—home to Adolf Hitler’s racial nationalism and militarism. And where did the theological liberalism of Germany fit into the picture?

This is the starting point for James D. Strasburg’s fine study, God’s Marshall Plan: American Protestants and the Struggle for the Soul of Europe. It is the story of how, during and after the Second World War, leading US Protestants “identified Germany as the prime territory for creating a new Christian and democratic world order in the heart of Europe, one that could dispel any new totalitarian threat, whether spiritual or political” (2).

God’s Marshall Plan revolves around two groups of US Protestants. The first is the “ecumenists,” who worked through the powerful Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and were eager to develop a new “’World Christianity,’ an imagined global community that was ecumenically Protestant in its spirituality and democratically oriented in its politics” (2). Moreover, “they marshalled their spiritual and political energies to oppose any perceived ‘totalitarian’ threat to such an order—including communism and secularism, as well as Catholicism and Protestant fundamentalism—both at home and across the European continent” (3).

The second group is the “evangelicals” (often “fundamentalists” in Strasburg’s narrative), who “promoted biblical fundamentals and conversionary mission as the proper theological expression of Protestant Christianity. They also identified individual liberty, limited government, free market capitalism, and an America-first foreign policy as their nation’s proper political values” (3).

As Strasburg explains, his book “narrates the origins and history of these competing American Protestant missions to Germany and Europe.” More specifically, “it examines how ecumenical and evangelical American Protestants used the onset of two world wars and an era of reconstruction as rationale to spiritually and politically intervene in Europe” in order to develop their “respective world orders.” Beyond that, the book explains “how this spiritual struggle for Europe activated and advanced American Protestantism’s long-standing Christian nationalism—the belief that the United States was a Christian nation with an exceptional role to play in the world” (3).

As they worked for Europe’s spiritual recon­struction, both ecumenists and evangelicals drew on an American “‘conquering faith’—its spir­itual impulse to shape, lead, and transform the globe through the spread of Protestant Christianity and American democracy.” In pursuit of this aim, both groups of US Protestants “mobilized for world war and pursued strategic partnerships with federal officials, foreign policymakers, and the American military. Through these efforts, they hoped to spread dem­ocratic values and Protestant Christianity to Europe, and as such, to remake the continent in the American image” (4).

But, as Strasburg argues, the competing agendas of US Protestants in postwar Germany both grew out of and reflected religious fractures at home, as ecumenists and evangelicals struggled over “the spiritual leadership of their nation and the so-called ‘Christian West’” (4). Moreover, European Protestants had their own ideas about the spiritual and social reconstruction of war-torn Germany and Europe, the most prominent of which was a “third way” theology of peace and reconciliation independent of either superpower. This, in turn, prompted some US Protestants to rethink their own approaches to world missions and global politics in the era of the Cold War. Not surprisingly, here too ecumenists and evangelicals clashed, and so “the spiritual struggle for Europe thus left American Protestants deeply divided and at odds over their global mission. It ultimately forged competing theologies of global engagement—Christian nationalism and Christian globalism—that transformed the United States, diplomacy, and re­ligion in an era of world war and beyond” (5).

As Strasburg demonstrates throughout God’s Marshall Plan, when US Protestants grappled with rival ideologies—democratic liberal, fascist, and communist—very often,

their national and po­litical allegiances overpowered their religious commitments. In particular, such loyalties often challenged their faith’s summons to love of neighbor, re­gardless of that neighbor’s nationality, race, or politics. Christian nationalism likewise clashed with the biblical admonition to prioritize peacemaking and to seek the welfare of the wider world. Finally, it undercut the biblical man­date to hold a higher citizenship in heaven and to declare a greater devotion to a kingdom that knew no borders. (12)

One cannot read this history and not be struck by the parallels to our contemporary moment. In so many ways, the fissures Strasburg explores throughout his book remain challenges at the very heart of American Christianity today.

God’s Marshall Plan traces this story from the aftermath of the First World War through the rise of totalitarian regimes on through the Second World War and into the Cold War that followed. With respect to the book’s title, Strasburg notes:

The Marshall Plan serves as an apt metaphor for the ambitions of American Protestants in Europe. As the American govern­ment worked to remake the continent’s markets and politics, American Protestants complemented these efforts through tent revivals, theo­logical exchanges, and reconstruction programs designed to revive the continent’s soul. In effect, they worked to establish an American empire of the spirit. They hoped that exporting their faith’s values abroad and creating new ocean-spanning religious networks would provide spir­itual support for America’s new transatlantic democratic order. (18)

Strasburg develops his argument in eight chapters. The first (“Spiritual Conquest”) explores the US Protestant response to the First World War. For ecumenists like Congregational minister, relief worker, and church leader Henry Smith Leiper, the German imperialism that led to war in 1914 required the antidote of US spiritual democracy in keeping with Wilsonian internationalism. But for evangelicals like the fundamentalist Baptist pastor and anti-evolutionist William Bell Riley, the problem was not German imperialism but German theological modernism, which required the solution of a return to the Bible, Christian morality, and evangelical mission (23). Strasburg explains the competing ideas of ecumenists and evangelicals by surveying groups and individuals as diverse as the Federal Council of Churches (FCC), President Woodrow Wilson, lay evangelist and International Missionary Council leader John R. Mott, Leiper, Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong, the 1910 World Missionary Conference, German pastors Martin Niemöller and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, The Christian Century, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, revivalist Billy Sunday, Riley, fundamentalist leaders French Oliver and A.C. Dixon, and The King’s Business. But if US ecumenists “outlined a mission to create a new international system rooted in Wilsonian principles,” to make Europe “more authentically Christian,” and to “promote a democratic spirit abroad” (42), conservative Protestants founded the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association to combat “the doctrinal shallowness and modernist teachings of the Federal Council and German Protestantism” (44) and supported and supported “America First” Republican Henry Cabot Lodge’s US Senate faction which fought tooth and nail against the formation of the League of Nations. Racism, anti-Catholicism, anti-socialism, and antisemitism were also features of this movement of reaction against US participation in ecumenical Christianity and internationalist politics. As Strasburg explains, in the aftermath of the First World War, US Protestants were increasingly divided about global mission—caught between Christian nationalism and Christian globalism. Despite these divisions, however, Strasburg argues that “American Protestants still generally agreed that the United States was a Christian na­tion with an exceptional role to play in the world. … American Protestants worked to reshape the world through American values and outlined a vision for global spiritual conquest” (50).

In chapters 2 to 4, Strasburg describes the growth of US Protestant engagement with Germany through the economic and political upheaval of the Weimar era (“World Chaos”) and the turmoil of Nazism and its church politics (“The Lonely Flame”), and World War II and the defeat of Nazism (“For Christ and Country”). The rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement provoked alarm among US Protestants, whether because of its totalitarianism, antisemitism, and racial nationalism (ecumenists) or because its collectivist nature seemed all too similar to “Soviet communism, planned economies, and the New Deal” (evangelicals) (52). Strasburg notes that even as modernists and fundamentalists sparred in the United States, so too pro-Nazi German Christians and their opponents in the Confessing Church entered into a church struggle in Germany. American ecumenist Protestants followed these events closely, expressing concern over the unwillingness even of Confessing Church leaders to move beyond their own conservatism, nationalism, and militarism to oppose the Nazi state itself (58).

Here Strasburg discusses the ideas and views of Leiper and Niebuhr, and recounts Bonhoeffer’s experiences in the United States and the impact of his experiences at Union Seminary and among Black Christians in New York. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany “as one of the most resolute German Protestants in his spiritual and political opposition to Hitler and the German Christian crusade” (64). Likewise, American ecumenists supported the Confessing Church at ecumenical conferences and other events, such as the 1934 Baptist World Congress held in Berlin. And Leiper wrote extensively in books and articles about the menace of Hitlerism, arguing that only the universal values of Protestant ecumenism could support the democratic order that would combat Nazism and, more broadly, secularism.

In contrast, evangelicals saw the rise of European dictators as a portent of the end times. Viewing current events through an apocalyptic lens (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelations), these premillennial fundamentalists were on the lookout for the Antichrist, believing as they did that the world was indeed descending into the chaos of the end times. Here Gerald Winrod, Riley, J. Frank Norris, and Oswald J. Smith take centre stage, with their attacks on Soviet communism and New Deal America. Of note was Winrod’s 1935 pilgrimage to Germany, during which he revised his views of Hitler and the Nazi state, in part based on the virulent antisemitism Winrod now preached. So too Riley, who praised Hitler for rescuing “Germany from the very jaws of atheistic communism” and blamed Bolshevism on international Jewry (75). Other fundamentalists did raise concerns about Nazism and its persecution of Jews, including Baptist churchman John J. Rice. For all of these fundamentalists, however, Christian nationalism was the antidote to both foreign dictators and dangerous domestic developments in both church and state.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, the ecumenist pastor Stewart Herman shepherded the “lonely flame” of American Protestantism in Germany at the American Church. Herman studied and travelled widely in Germany, witnessing the rise of the German church struggle in the early years of the Third Reich. He also visited Jews in Germany and understood their plight clearly. While he appreciated Nazi attacks on Communism, Herman was alarmed over political developments in Hitler’s Germany, and his own involvement in American affairs in Berlin earned him the attention of the Gestapo. Herman tried to remain neutral, but the arrest of Niemöller in 1937 pushed him towards the Confessing Church, and Herman became something of a spokesman for the Confessing Church in international ecumenical meetings, which its representatives were prohibited from attending.

From 1938 onwards, Herman’s ministry took place under the shadow of the persecution of Jews. Though he did help so-called “non-Aryan” Christians, Herman harboured anti-Judaic and antisemitic sympathies and generally refused to aid Jews. Christian mission to Jews, urging them to convert, was for Herman the answer to Jewish persecution. Only when the Nazi regime began deporting Jews in 1941 was Herman moved to aid Jews, though once the United States declared war, he was interned with American Embassy staff. Strasburg uses Herman’s story and references to Leiper and Bonhoeffer to explore diverse perspectives and levels of willingness to act among ecumenical Protestants.

The entry of the United States into the war aroused ecumenical Protestants (Niebuhr, Herman—after his return from Germany—and John Foster Dulles) to declare that America needed to responsibly exercise its power, defeat “pagan” Nazism, and establish a new global Christian democratic order. Herman went so far as to join the Office of Secret Services (OSS). He also talked up the Confessing Church as an anti-Nazi opposition movement, helping create a myth that would later serve the Allied Occupation well. During the war, ecumenists began to draft plans for a democratic and Christian order in postwar Germany, and its integration into a multilateral federation of nations.

American evangelicals also supported the war, but also “advanced their commitments to conversionary mission, liberty, and unilateralism” (104). Viewing the war from a premillennialist fundamentalist perspective, Winrod and colleagues initially opposed the US entrance into the war, promoting “America First” isolationism. Other fundamentalists stressed links between Hitler, Satan, the Beast, and the Anti-Christ, and so supported the effort to defeat them and hold evil at bay. As Christian nationalists, fundamentalists conflated God and country, piety and patriotism. It was during the Second World War that the American flag found its way into many Protestant sanctuaries (124). Prayer became a weapon of war and Christian nationalist evangelism a form of mobilization, as in the case of the 1944 “Victory Rally” organized by Youth for Christ (YFC), bringing 28,000 Chicago area youth and service members together. Fundamentalists also attacked “modernism” and the Federal Council of Churches, which it accused of “theological Hitlerism” (127). Another sign of the resurgence of evangelicals was the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942, which attempted to look forward but still opposed women’s rights and racial equality.

Chapters 5 through 8 carry the story forward, from the spiritual reconstruction of Germany (“Reviving the Heartland”) and the threat of Soviet Communism (“Battleground Europe”) to the attempt to create a new Christian world order (“God’s Marshall Plan”) and evangelistic campaigns in the time of the Cold War (“Spiritual Rearmament”). Ecumenist Protestants like Stewart Herman played an important role in postwar Germany, serving religious and political reconstruction agendas as he travelled about on behalf of the World Council of Churches, supported by the OSS and the American Military Government (AMG). With others, he hoped the German churches could serve a foundational role in the Christian and democratic renewal of Germany.

As Strasburg argues, “In occupied Germany, American ecumenists wed their ‘conquering faith’ to America’s newfound project of building the ‘American Century.’ Men like Herman and Allen and John Foster Dulles advanced religious and state interests in tandem and used their nation’s postwar primacy to build the foundations of an American-led new Christian world order” (132). They perceived an emerging “spiritual cold war against secularism and communism” and “worked to recruit German Protestants as Christian partners in their quest to establish a new democratic and Christian alliance against these perceived threats” (133). A new Reformation would transform the German churches into a democratic, voluntaristic, and activist force.

But German Protestants (including the liberated Martin Niemöller and Württemberg regional bishop Theophil Wurm) had their own ideas about the reconstruction of their church and nation, and often opposed US Protestant agendas. German and European leaders argued that they themselves needed to rebuild their churches and spiritual life. One key battle took place over the structure of the postwar German Church. Wurm and Niemöller clashed over the formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), with Wurm’s traditional state church model winning out over Niemöller’s more ambitious congregational plan. Another contentious topic was the question of German guilt, and here Niemöller’s “Stuttgart Declaration” receives Strasburg’s attention. The author rightly notes the silence of the statement on the subject of the Jews. A third challenge was denazification, which German church leaders chafed against.

Evangelicals responded to the defeat of Germany and the rising threat of Communism with calls by young evangelists Torrey Johnson (YFC) and Billy Graham for a “spiritual invasion” of “Battleground Europe” (156). As Strasburg explains, they focused first on “occupied Germany, where they preached their conversionary gospel and commitments to freedom and free enterprise,” supported by American military chaplains and fundamentalist military officers (157). Once again, theological modernism, secularism, and the rejection of the Bible and of Jesus Christ were presented as important causes of the German catastrophe (and American worldliness), even as revival and return to Christ would restore Germany (and America).

But whether ecumenical or evangelical, US Protestants partnered with the US government (including President Harry Truman personally) and the American Military Government to oppose a rising Communist threat. German church leaders like Niemöller, Berlin Protestant Bishop Otto Dibelius and Berlin Catholic Bishop Konrad von Preysing also undertook speaking tours in the United States, praising the democracy and freedom of the USA and hoping to generate sympathy and support for Germany and its churches. Moreover, they supported the Marshall Plan to physically reconstruct Germany as a parallel force contributing to the spiritual renewal of Germany, alongside the efforts of US Protestants. As Strasburg puts it, “In an era when American capital, con­sumer goods, popular culture, and military platoons poured into Europe and began to remake the continent’s economics, society, and politics, this accompanying spiritual intervention sought to transform Europe’s soul” (185). One place these spiritual and economic plans came together was in the reconstruction of German churches, so many of which had been destroyed during the Allied bombing of Germany. Christian literature campaigns and educational projects were also important. So too were US Protestant relief efforts to gather material supplies for beleaguered Germans.

But even within the effort to rebuild Germany, Strasburg finds conflicts between ecumenists and evangelicals. The latter group criticized the World Council of Churches—Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri project was a fundamentalist attempt response to both liberal Christianity and secular society. Evangelicals like Billy Graham also criticized the Marshall Plan itself, arguing it was “folly” and a “give-away program” rooted in “deficit spending.” Once again, big government and collectivism were the enemy. Evangelicals also rejected Truman’s Fair Deal programs, calling the proposal for national health insurance “socialized medicine” and a pathway to “societal slavery” (209).

Evangelical Protestants responded to the problems of postwar Germany most forcefully through revival meetings. In 1954, YFC evangelist Billy Graham held meetings in the former Nazi parade grounds at Nuremberg, preaching salvation through Jesus Christ. But Graham was also trying to convince Germans to support the US Cold War effort to push back Communism and protect Europe. To that end, US evangelical Protestants also strongly supported the US military. “Led by a coalition of free-enterprise businessmen, Cold War hawks, and conservative clergy, these postwar crusades rallied God-fearing Americans to defend their values of faith, freedom, and free enterprise both at home and abroad against New Deal liberalism, Soviet communism, and postwar secularization” (212). This despite the fact that many German Protestants resisted rearmament.

One intriguing element of this spiritual campaign against Communism was the Wooden Church Crusade, a plan to build 49 chapels along the line of the Iron Curtain in West Germany which gained strong support among US political and industrial leaders. By the end of 1956, 28 houses of worship had been built, including a few synagogues.

In the book’s epilogue, the author carries the story of US Protestant engagement with Germany through to the end of the Cold War. Strasburg concludes that if US evangelical Protestants were more obviously “America First” in their orientation, US ecumenical Protestants were also “quick to serve their nation’s interests and advance its global project” (238). As they tried to build a just and peaceful world order, they promoted a particularly American combination of democracy, capitalism, and Christianity abroad. And as they worked to Christianize and democratize the world, protecting it against totalitarian and secular ideologies, they did so by attempting “to rebuild Germany as the European cornerstone of an American-led Christian world order” (238). In their own way, they too supported American Christian nationalism. Thus the line between the Christian globalism of the ecumenists and the Christian nationalism of the evangelicals was in truth rather blurry. And Strasburg carries this point into today, arguing that “the challenge for many Protestant Christians in the twentieth century involved untangling their faith from the creeds of nation, race, and empire. That struggle continues to this day” (239).

In contrast to this Christian nationalism, German and European Protestant leaders espoused a Third Way in the 1960s, as men like Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller sharply critiqued elements of American capitalism, militarism, empire, and domestic social inequality. In some cases, this proved influential among US ecumenists. For example, Stewart Herman, whose ideas and work are central to Strasburg’s account, ended up denouncing antisemitism and racism, supporting refugee work, learning from liberation theology and Vatican II Catholicism, and embracing interfaith partnerships with Jews (243). To a large extent, however, US Protestants continued to struggle with racial equality, immigration, and other challenges to (white) Christian nationalism, even as they remained susceptible to the allure of political power. Strasburg’s concluding hope is that studying this history “might play a part in helping American Protestants foster and practice theologies and a style of politics that more fully reflect the ways of a border-defying faith” (252).

This is a fine work of history—deeply and widely researched and clearly argued. Strasburg’s grasp of the secondary literature on both German and especially US Protestantism is solid, and the notes are filled with references to books, articles, and speeches by Protestant leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, including the personal correspondence and papers of Henry Smith Leiper and Stewart Winfield Herman and other material drawn from church and state archives in Washington, Berlin, and Geneva, among others. With almost 50 pages of rich notes, no bibliography was included.

As for criticisms, it is not surprising that this is almost entirely the story of the men who led churches and spoke for both American and German Christianity. Women are virtually absent from this account, save for the Birmingham women who donated syrup to the German relief effort (195). Yet we know that North American women were substantially involved in relief and administrative work in the postwar era, as well as in Christian missions. Did they engage with the issues raised in God’s Marshall Plan any differently than did their male colleagues? More broadly, beyond attending conferences or rallies or subscribing to church periodicals, is there evidence to indicate how deeply engaged ordinary US Protestants were in the spiritual reconstruction of Germany? The Wooden Church Crusade is an excellent example of this. Were there others? Finally, one would wish for a little more background on some of the characters whose writings Strasburg quotes. To what extent can their ideas and statements be taken as representative of their denominations or constituencies?

Those issues aside—and some go beyond the scope of an already extensively-researched study—God’s Marshall Plan is an enlightening and challenging account of how US Protestant Christian nationalism worked itself out both abroad in postwar Germany and at home in the United States. An excellent contribution to the literature, it is also, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, a cautionary tale.

 

 

 

 

 

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